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Since opening their stately doors in 1985, downtown Olympia’s Washington Center for the Performing Arts has welcomed nearly 2 million guests to plays, concerts, exhibitions, performances and entertainment adventures. After 37 years, the Washington Center is currently undergoing a major interior renovation project and will present a fresh face to guests this fall. Join audiences and performers alike in admiring her sparkle on Friday, November 4 with the season opener, Chris Perondi’s Stunt Dog Experience. The dogs are pretty adorable too. The Center will host a free public open house with guided tours on Sunday, November 13, noon to 4:00 pm.

scaffolding inside the Washington Center for the Performing Arts
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts is currently undergoing renovation to update and upgrade features inside and out. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Washington Center Remodels House and Stage

The current project is more than just paint and carpet, says Executive Director Jill Barnes. “The Washington Center opened in 1985 following a capital campaign with the support of the community,” she explains. “Since the building of the Washington Center the only widespread capital improvements occurred in the 1990s when the Andy Crow organ was refurbished and re-installed in the Center. Shortly thereafter the carpet was replaced, and the theater seats were reupholstered once.”

New 2022 updates fall solidly into the upgrade category. “Technology continues to change at a rapid pace, leaving 1980s equipment unable to produce the level of quality that artists and audiences expect in the 21st century,” says Barnes. “Since this time, we have been good stewards of this initial funding and investment. In addition, with matching funds available from the State of Washington Building for the Arts program, we were able to leverage significant funding. The time was right for an overhaul of the components that are at the heart of every theater.”

Two Phases of Fancy for the Washington Center

artist rendering of the new lobby of the Washington Center in Olympia
No shows were scheduled during construction but guests can see the gorgeous results on Friday, November 4’s Stunt Dog Experience. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Overall, the renovation is part of an $8.8 million dollar campaign to improve existing 37-year-old equipment and revitalize the interior, Barnes explains. “The first phase included everything that brings the theater to life: a complete replacement and upgrade of backstage behind-the-scenes equipment. This included a complete stage lighting system with dimmer racks, packs, and lighting console; line array audio system; stage rigging; stage drapes and fire and safety curtains; house lighting; assistive listening system; and an 18,000 lumen HD video projector.”

That brings us up to the present. “The second phase is currently underway,” says Barnes. “This includes everything in the interior that gives the public its first impression, comfort and appeal. This includes interior design, 40,000 feet of new carpet, 1,000 new seats, new paint and wall treatments, concessions remodel, light fixtures, an administrative remodel and more.”

The Washington Center Box Office Remains Open

Thanks to careful planning, no shows were scheduled during the renovation time so scheduling conflicts were avoided. Barnes and the Washington Center team are excited to showcase performance technologies that have been installed. “These will impact each and every show, artist, and audience member,” she says. “The project will enhance the quality, efficiency, and enjoyment of live performing arts and cultural events. It will allow artists to dream big and allow the audience a world-class experience in our intimate space.”

artist rendering of the new lobby of the Washington Center in Olympia
While the renovation is underway, visit the Box Office at nearby Harlequin Productions located at 202 4th Avenue East. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for the Performing Arts

During this exciting time of renewal, the box office is still open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and two hours before ticketed events. The box office phone number and e-mail are also the same. The physical location of the box office has temporarily moved down the street to Harlequin Productions located at 202 4th Avenue East.  Patrons can purchase tickets in person there during normal box office hours.

Theater walks the line between a seamless show in front of the curtain and skillful maneuvering behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly. The same can be said for many renovation projects, big or small. But as we’ve learned from HGTV, once the dust settles, the end result is always worth the wait.

“The Washington Center has allowed local artistic organizations to thrive in a modern and professional space,” says Barnes. Organizations such as the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks Choral Ensemble, Ballet Northwest, Studio West Dance Academy, and many more. “We have earned the respect and confidence of the community, which shares our pride in the arts and culture of our region. The upgrades and remodels that are being completed will be used by every artist on stage whether they be an internationally known touring artist or a local young dance student, and every audience member that comes to participate in live performing arts.”

Find a list of upcoming shows, events and tickets or view the 2022-2023 season at a glance. Suddenly find yourself with free time? Use the handy events calendar and drop in on amazing local artists at work. Call the box office at 360.753.8586 or email boxoffice@washingtoncenter.org and  get seats today to see the grand dame’s fresh face this November.

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